04/21/2015 09:30 EDT | Updated 07/15/2015 04:59 EDT

Désirée McGraw named new Pearson College president

Désirée McGraw — reportedly one of Canada's 100 most powerful women — has been named the new president of Pearson College on Vancouver Island, becoming the first woman ever to hold the post in the school's 40-year history.

McGraw enters the position with an impressive resume, as a co-founder of Al Gore's Climate Project in Canada and former advisor to then prime minister Paul Martin.

For the past seven years McGraw served as President of the Jeanne Sauve Foundation in Montreal, which helps young Canadians address global issues at home and abroad.  She says her new role will be very similar to her former position.

"It's essentially about promoting international cooperation and addressing global problems through educating and engaging next-generation leaders," McGraw told All Points West's Robyn Burns.

​'A little embarrassing'

​McGraw was introduced to students and faculty on Monday, but she first stepped foot on campus 28 years ago, when she was part of a cross-country speaking tour about the Cold War and nuclear arms race. 

"Before I came out on stage, they showed video footage of me at age 16 at Pearson College. It was quite moving in fact, a little embarrassing," said McGraw.

"I think for the students it was also very emotional to see someone who had been their age at Pearson and now was coming back."

McGraw, who was recently deemed one of Canada's 100 most powerful women by the Women's Executive Network, considers her role is to prepare students for an increasingly complex world that is filled with uncertainty.

For her, that means academic excellence, but also community service, experiential education and conflict-resolution.

"To really have the tools and skills to tackle these problems and not just learn about them theoretically but to actually develop the skills to have an impact," said McGraw.

"These next five years are important years. They are going to ready us for the next few decades of leadership."

For now, McGraw says her first job is to immerse herself in the culture and fabric of Pearson College's history.

"I told students and the faculty in my speech today, 'Please treat me like a first-year student at Pearson. I'm here to listen and learn.'"

To hear the full interview with Désirée McGraw, listen to the audio labelled: Pearson College